The Happiest Day, The Happiest Hour

I encourage, and am open to, all criticism.

The Happiest Day, The Happiest Hour

When I read about it in the college paper, I couldn’t believe it. I remember staring at his name spelled out in the black print and trying to recall his face, but it wouldn’t come. I just couldn’t believe that it was really him they were writing about, the one guy beside Danny who understood me, and I couldn’t even recall his face. So I tried harder. In a psychology class I had the prior semester I learned that smell was the strongest sense associated with memory. So I tried to recall his smell. That also didn’t work. So I tried to visualize him in class, that voice of his, the passion he brought to everything he said, always speaking with his heart, and still I couldn’t see his face. The paper said he died of a cocaine overdose, between acts I and II of some absurdest play the school was running. A vein in his neck ruptured and he had a heart attack, the paper was unclear on which did him in. Can you believe it, they actually wrote “did him in.”

An investigation of the incident was still going on. I had a friend studying forensic psychology and she’s the one that gave me the article in the first place. She was invited on the scene to observe the investigation and I still couldn’t believe this was happening, I mean, he was such a great guy. And the way in which he pursued me all of spring semester, I nearly gave in. Handsome, too. But so over-educated that I knew there was something wrong with him, something he was hiding. Cocaine, of course . . . makes sense. I can see him now, those sunlight eyes of his, with these honey laser-beams that always kept me from looking at him anytime he looked in my direction. I couldn’t handle it. And I didn’t even know him well enough to go to the funeral. Can I just show up at a funeral uninvited? Mellisa didn’t know, but she said that if I did, I’d be better to call the funeral parlors and find out from them rather than hassle the family. I still couldn’t believe this was actually happening, that tomorrow or the next day, I would watch a casket go into the earth and that would be that. I wasn’t ready.

I knew he was Jewish, so at least that would limit the amount of funeral homes to call. And I knew Jews always buried their dead no later than three days after it happened, but because of the way Matt died he was a special case. The school was conducting a full autopsy as they didn’t want to take any responsibility for the death, already expecting a legal suit, plus the case had already made the big press. The Daily News picked up on the story first and all the other papers including the Times followed suit, taking their cues and facts from the Daily. The Times headline ran: Queens College Actor Overdoses On Cocaine During Performance. Well, not exactly. It was between acts, and there were rumors of foul play all over campus. Of course kids talk and the more sensational the talk the faster it gets around. I never put faith into rumors, but I just had a hard time believing that he would have used that much coke, especially during a play he was starring in. It didn’t make any sense. I knew people that messed around with the stuff, my cousin’s girlfriend was an addict herself for a while, so I knew what it was all about. I also remember the way he spoke about acting on a day we were discussing Pirandello, he was on fire. I damn near switched majors that Fall.

I’m not even sure why I’m writing it all out as it happened so long ago. I don’t think it was because Daniel and I divorced, or that I was re-reading Berberova’s short stories, those same stories through which we secretly fell in love (I couldn’t do anything because I was dating Danny) or that I re-read one of the poems he gave me last night. It’s just that he’s been haunting me for years. I shouldn’t say haunting, I didn’t mind when he came around, but its been getting in the way of my work. I have this claustrophobic deadline to meet for a book that I no longer wish to write. And to think that it was all so easy when I first began. There was just one thriller after another, that is, once I had learned to write one and admittedly it wasn’t very difficult, one work followed another and pretty soon I was making my living as a writer. I used the same characters from book to book, my literary agent informed me that people liked familiarity and that once you had a winner you should just stick with it rather than get experimental. I had this rather complex plot structure of the Dan Brown variety, and I would just alternate setting, historical and literary facts - some of which I simply made up - and every year they ended up on the New York Times bestseller list, in the top forty. Ginseng and the Cannibal of Venice. Ginseng and the Deadly Ninja. Ginseng and the New York Trapeze Artist. Ginseng goes to Africa. Ginseng and the Battle Intergallactica. I had an endless stream and I knew I’d never run out. Although my books never won critical acclaim, no pulitzer for me, I had a steady fan base and a five book contract with Random House. I was almost a third of the way through Ginseng and the Necrophiliac at the point where I was just about to reveal that the necrophiliac was a flesh-eating zombie, that Matty came to me. There was this long descriptive sex scene and I don’t know if it was the sex that really got to me or the descriptions of the soiled, rotting casket, but it took me back to him. The way I watched his father throw a stone a-top the casket and the thud of the red mud that crashed on the wood. I was back in that moment eight years ago, April of 08, and if I didn’t write it all out of me I knew I wouldn’t be able to get on with my life.

I remember the day very well. I was in the lab with Mellisa and we both observed a grey-bearded professor, who looked a bit like a wolf with that dirty grey beard of his, clamouring away on a computer. There was a diagram of a human body and all the veins and arteries which, the professor explained, if the veins and arteries were to be stretched out in a straight line would stretch the length of a mile. He turned around on the computer-chair and went back to manipulating the diagram. The diagram was three-dimensional and he kept moving it back and forth examining the neck. I saw a big monochromatic splotch of red in the neck and shuddered. We watched him move the body horizontally examining the heart. One artery appeared clogged, like it was tied with a sailor knot, there was no blood at all on it’s left and to the right there seemed to be thousands of veins, like tree branches in the winter, that went off into the lungs. “Mm-humph,” the professor said, “see this girls, he drowned in his own blood.” He slammed on the mouse and maximized the lungs. The whole screen turned red. I remember being unable to watch any longer, running out into the hall and waking up in the nurses’ office. Mellisa told me I’d fainted.

When I recovered we thought it would be a good idea to visit the theater. The play production was in one of the little theaters on campus no bigger than an ordinary classroom in Rufus King Hall. We waited for a class to end . . . two days after the funeral and the investigation was over . . . classes had resumed in The Little Theater as if nothing had happened. We decided to follow what we thought Matt’s actions would have been after the first act.

There was a dark long corridor backstage with set props scattered around the floor, black fedoras, cowboy hats, fake bottles of Whisky and Scotch, dining glasses with fake ice in them, and this old piano covered in dust which was out of tune. Mellisa couldn’t resist trying to play twinkle twinkle little star on it and I can still hear it, stuck in my head like some really bad pop song running over and over that no matter what you do just won’t go away. Except this is more a of a morbid funeral march that I think even Wagner would appreciate. Chreeng-Chreeng-Kaaaaaa-Zeeeeeeingalll-Chaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaar. Up ahead was a staircase and a doorway with a dim light scattering through. I looked back at the props and it seemed like one of the scenes of Ginseng and the Opera Phantom. At least I know where it all came from.

We walked through the door and up another staircase, it twisting around like a gyre in a medieval castle, and found ourselves in a hallway. Mellisa wanted to go into the boy’s bathroom looking for clues and dragged me with her. I knew we wouldn’t find anything, and I might have done without seeing a guy pissing in one of the stalls, not washing his hands, and walking passed us without expression as if it were normal for us to be there. He just grunted and walked out. Actually the bathroom wasn’t nearly as bad as the girls which we both found rather surprising.

“That’s the stall according to the report, third from the right.” I watched her go in with a sense of excitement. “Lee! Come take a look.” I wasn’t in the mood for any games but my curiosity always won. It turned out that there was something written on the bottom of the toilet seat, the horseshoe shaped part. “They did a professional investigation,” Mellisa said condescendingly, “and they didn’t even lift the seat up . . . men.” It was written in this green erasable marker and many words were smudged off and illegible. Melissa got pissed-off and told me to try since I was the English major “and all.” I recognized it immediately and I even remember that the first thought to come into my head was how Mellisa could have been so dumb as to not realize that this was Edgar Allen Poe’s famous work, The Raven. It was the last three verses with the last lines making it unmistakeably clear,

And his eyes have all the see---- of a demon’s that is dreaming,
An- — lamp-light o— him str---- th—s his sha— on the f-oor;
-nd my so-l from out that shad-- ---- l-- floa— on the floor
Shall be lifted–nev-------

“What do you think this could mean?”
“I dunno, I never understood poetry.”
“Well it’s about death.”
“Now, that’s ironic.”
“It’s not funny.”
“I know. But it is ironic.”
“He must have been so sad.”
“Maybe the green means something?”
“I just can’t believe it.”
“The green has to mean something.”
“Why would he do this?”
“It’s not logical to write that in green.”
“If we would have been friends at least.”
“Oh Lee, stop it. Don’t go blaming yourself now.”
“What could have gotten to him?”
“We’ll get to the bottom of this.”
“He had so much to live for.”
“I know. You told me all about him.”
“I still can’t believe this could happen.”
“It was probably murder.”
“And the way they described him, head in the toilet.”
“He had time to leave us a message though. Before they got him.”
“Oh, what message! That he was sad!?”
“I’m telling you he left us a code. There’s a logic here.”
“What code!? What Logic!? What the fuck does green have to do with anything?”
“Because a black marker makes more sense.”
“There is no sense, don’t you get it. This isn’t Columbo.”
“I know that.”
“No you don’t. You want order. You want two and two makes four.”
“Two and two are four.”
“You’re missing the point. There’s no order here. This is tragedy Mel!”

I ran out of the stall to get some air, I couldn’t take it anymore, and I was having a hard time breathing. Mellisa kept at it, looking for more clues. My chest was hurting and I had a headache. I was able to summon the rest of my strength and go back in. I thought at least I could try to put together the rest of the poem. The problem was that the handwriting was so terrible and that most of it was smudged. There was one sentence I could make out, the happiest day, the happiest hour. I didn’t know where it came from and it was a strange line that didn’t fit in with the rest. We searched around a little more but we didn’t find anything.

Mellisa told the dean of the university about what we found and she told me he screamed at her for wasting his time. She tried another one of her professors who was always rather nice to her, though very strange, and he said he checked the report and there was no mention of any Edgar Allen Poe. He told her that pranks like this were not suited for a girl her age. After that she decided that it was probably best not to tell anyone and to just try and solve the puzzle herself.

We were in the student union building and Mellisa kept on pestering me about how the green meant something and that we still might figure out who committed the crime if we only put our minds together. I decided to play along, not because I thought we would achieve anything, I highly doubted that, it’s just that I still had so much disbelief that he was dead, that I was at a funeral yesterday, and maybe if I played along it would turn out to be all untrue – a giant hoax.

We naturally thought that he seemed to have known he was in danger and decided to leave a warning. Mellisa kept insisting this was the only logical explanation. But it didn’t sound right. That was something really fictional, like something you read in a Dan Brown book. I just didn’t think there was some grand conspiracy to murder Matt in the middle of a play. But she said that drama majors tended to get jealous of one another and this was true. I don’t deny that she had a point but realistically would one actor murder another because he didn’t get the part he wanted in a college play? She said that people have been killed over more trivial things than that. This was also true. But I still had a tough time buying it.

One thing the college paper did report was that he was greatly admired by his fellow actors, they even said it was like losing a brother. “Then… that’s motive for one of the less popular actors!” I remembered her outburst well as she was getting really worked up. Though I still had a hard time believing it. We continued to explore other alternatives, come up with all sorts of ridiculous plots; one such plot involved Matt sleeping with the director and her husband taking revenge. But none of them added up to anything substantial.

After a while even Mellisa gave up. The investigation had long closed, the family accepted Matt’s death as a great tragedy, leaving stones on top of his tombstone whenever they went to mourn, and the drama department put up a picture of him with a candle that they lit every anniversary of the tragic night. There was even an anti-drug group started on campus using Matt’s story to promote whatever agenda they had going on at a given time. It was all absurd of course, from the media to the investigation and the little black armbands the drama students wore for a semester. What could have gotten to him, so much, that he went and did lines of coke – according to the autopsy report, at least, twelve – during a play in which he had a major role? Can art really affect a person that much?

Maybe that’s not the best answer, or the truth. But it’s the one I’ve learned to accept. I even tattoed into my arm the following words to remind myself: And the Raven, never flitting

I liked it. Throw in a little more character history and background and you have a full-length novel.

Why do Mellisa and Lee not get The Raven, though it ends in death, is not “about” death?

The verse he quoted is only relevant if he took his life because he couldn’t have the janitor. :frowning: Green?

Thank you both for the feedback, mucho gracias amigos.

Ichthus,

I see where the confusion comes from, when Lee says, " ‘I just don’t get it.’" This wasn’t in refrence to The Raven or what color marker he wrote the poem in, but as to why he killed himself (which is what’s in her mind opposed to Mellisa). I’m glad you offered your opinion as now I’ll have to work out a way around because Lee does understand the Raven and what it’s about; she’s the English major, only Mellisa does not as she likely never read the poem. She has her own set of skills though.

Not everyone understands metaphors and poetry afterall, that needs to be kept in mind. Even you seemed to have missed the really big clue, the one that would solve the mystery - this story follows the guidelines for a detective genre, incorporating every element - the happiest day, the happiest hour. That’s a title of another one of Poe’s poems, which will probably lead one to the real metaphor as to what this is all about (I won’t spoil it). Here’s a hint (probably a giveaway) who do you know that was into drugs, lost his one true love, and died a tragic death?

There, hopefully I fixed the dialogue.

Also, in response to the end, a girl in my class noted that art probably affected Heath Ledger to that extent, killing him. So it can be read in a variety of different ways, which is what I was going for, leaving it open-ended.

I don’t think I’ll turn it into a novel, though I probably can, as I like all the themes embedded in this little piece to be just condensed enough to make a good short story. A lot of it is true too, from my own life - setting and characters. I did pursue a girl, she was taken, etcetra etcetra.

I would love more feedback from anyone else willing to share. Whether it’s on style, content, theme, philosophy, et cetra.

signing out

de nada!

I noticed you mispelled Mellisa to put emphasis on “L” as did Poe.

The reason I zeroed in on the janitor was because the erasable ink was still there–why would the janitor not clean it off, unless the janitor was “the one” and would not erase the words he left?

Someone we both know? Someone famous, then? ‘Cause I never personally knew anyone who went through all that (especially someone we’d both know) (and I hope I never do). You believe there can be a “one true love”… I don’t agree… I mean, if you take it back to the Golden Rule, we should love every soul as if they were our own soul. Whoever you are in a romantic relationship with, you should love like they are your one true love–even if your first five died and your current one is your sixth “one true love”. In other words–get over it, move on, keep on lovin’. I’m not saying that’s easy or done overnight.

My dad was/is into Poe, and I read some of his (Dad’s) books a million years ago, as well as reading Poe in school. I hadn’t read The Raven in many years, and it hits much closer than it did then. Thanks.

“I hadn’t read The Raven in many years, and it hits much closer than it did then. Thanks.”

No, thank you. That is a compliment I’ll never forget.

Your reactions were facinating.

I mispelled Melissa because I can’t spell in general, but thank you for pointing that out. But now I’m not sure if I wish to change it or not.

It was the Janiter with the wrench in the hallway! Heh well, okay, no problem.

Yea, it’s someone we both know, you mentioned him a few times already. :bulb:

Perhaps true love was a poor choice of words, but this is definitely one guy who could not let go and kept her in his heart and words for the rest of his life. It was deep man, to say da least.

Poe wasn’t addicted to drugs, lost many loves, and every death is tragic.

You wrote the original post about a real person we both know who died, and I’m s’posed to GUESS? Tell me. Now.

Double-check those facts my friend. But yes every death is tragic, got me there. It doesn’t really have to be him. It’s just that he fits a lot of the criteria; like I said, another person thought of Heath Ledger (which is fine). It could also simply be a fiction, Matt, a name floating over the void. But where’s the fun in that? It could be me (and a lot of him is). See, it is all open-ended. And your interpretation is fine. I’m glad it made an effect on you.

Thankyou for not taking that any further. I owe you one, BIG time, but I’m no good at such things, so you’ll prob’ly never get it… lucky you.

Poe’s supposed drug addiction was a rumor started by his worst critic, to defame him after his death. His wife died, but wasn’t the only one he loved and lost.

You’re not dead. Cause for celebration.

I nominate today be celebrated as “TUM’s Still Alive Day” in ILP, and it end 24 hours from now, just to make things really weird, 'cause who needs any more holidays that begin and end at midnight and only take up one calendar day? Just say no to convenient-efficiency-for-convenient-efficiency’s sake. Works for me.

does the dance of joy

Great now I have to go read a bio on Poe to clear this up. As if I didn’t have enough to do, heh. I’m simply repeating what I learned in school and in a brief a bio-pic of Poe’s completed works. Considering some of the stuff he wrote, I think he used, but I won’t push the point until I’ve read more on the subject. As for his other loves, from my knowledge, he wrote all his poems about the girl - whether or not she was his wife I don’t remember - who died when she was very young. She was also his cousin.

Ah, old Annabel Lee in a sepulchre by the sea. Maybe Melissa should be renamed Dannabel, that’s close enough to Annabel without being overtly cheesy, and also happens to be the real name of the girl I pursued. The girl who seems to have possesed me the other day and wrote it all through my hand. (I do hope she returns).

I read it again, The Underground Man, and I still love it. I’m sorry that I couldn’t find anything to critique you on. The thing is, I love this short story from such a conceptual and foundational level that I keep getting wrapped back into it when I am trying to critique it for specific issues and then next thing I know I am all the way through it again having never critiqued anything.

But I can promise you, that next time if you write a story that is not as good, I shall have no problems finding errors or coming up with suggestions to make it better.

That’s okay, I’m simply repeating what I read on wiki :smiley:

I’m ignoring the last part of your reply, except for this comment. You are a teller of stories.

Overall the story seems to be about a guy who no one understood… all their guesses miss the mark, they don’t even get close… which makes his death even more (every death is) tragic… 'cause, even in death, nobody got him. Except maybe the janitor.

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I would add that God understands him, but the whole point of the story is that he doesn’t see any point (he is heartbroken over losing a mere shadow of the Grand Narrative he cannot see), and TUM would have conniptions if I interpreted God into his story. Maybe I’ll just have to write something to balance things out in this here Creative Writing forum. Lord-willing.

I’m afraid I’m too postmodern to believe in “Grand Narratives.”

Yeah, and my Grandpa’s too old-fashioned for colored TV.

I started writing something, but I don’t know if I’ll finish it in time to post it in this forum. In the event that I don’t, I’ll post it on my blog.